Concerning the Subject of Lifeboats

Are you really so alive anymore?

Women and children are always the least willing to get into the lifeboats, it seems.

In an emergency, this horrific state of affairs costs lives. Death in space frequently strikes with almost no warning whatever, and quick action by all parties is the only even remotely tractable approach to stemming the hemorrhaging of precious human lives into vacuum.

All too often, a woman and a child board a lifeboat, only to have the kid forget her teddy bear in the cabin. So the kid slips away in the chaos, and the mother panics. And of course they can’t launch the boat until they’re reunited. Thirty seconds later, the reactor goes supercritical, and everyone dies horribly when the vessel explosively decompresses.

By the year 2290, such ghastly death tolls became so commonplace that the latest interplanetary liners began rolling out new standards: lifeboats would be deployed, with or without people, precisely 60 seconds after the alarms began sounding.

That got people’s attention.

By 2294, and despite escalating concessions by the United Planets Transportation Authority, international pressure was approaching the breaking point. The basic practice indisputably saved countless lives, but too many were orphans, widows, and grieving parents. The tens of thousands of ships in the fleet—and the dozens lost every year—became breeding grounds for discontent, even as passengers were snatched robotically from the jaws of certain death.

In fact, it was the survivors who argued most assiduously and caustically: better to doom the many than to devastate the few. Such, they argued, was the price of our humanity.